Ravenclaw and Gryffindor students heading to Hogwarts
ISO 3200 | 1/250 sec | F3.3 | 24mm

When I travel with my kids, a few things differ from my child-free traveling experiences:

  • I can expect to carry a lot of things that don’t belong to me;
  • Plans can and will change at the drop of a meltdown;
  • I will see and do things that I might not normally choose; and
  • My travel companions will have the attention span of a gnat combined with the impatience of a... well, a child.

As a photographer, this means I need a camera that is small enough to stash in my pocket or purse, versatile enough to handle everything from relaxing moments at a pool to all-day treks through a theme park to sleep-deprived shenanigans at a family restaurant, and “smart” enough to take the pictures I want with very little input from me. Not only are my kids less generous about waiting for me to take photos, but the other guests/tourists have absolutely no time for that nonsense.

No patience
ISO 125 | 1/500 sec | F3.3 | 24mm

For a recent trip to the Universal theme parks in Orlando, Florida, I decided to bring along the Panasonic Lumix ZS200. Its small size meant I could carry it in the purse I stashed at my feet on rides (or in a temporary locker for particularly aggressive rides). The 1”-type sensor meant it would likely outperform my iPhone in low light. And the 24-360mm equivalent 15x optical zoom gave me the flexibility to get the whole scene from the middle of the action or to step away to focus on details.

Waiting for Gringott's Dragon to breathe fire
ISO 125 | 1/320 sec | F6.3 | ~274mm

Since there were other tourists vying for the same views and rushing to get to the same attractions, I didn’t have much time to frame shots or get my settings right. For the most part, I trusted the ZS200 to figure things out and set it to “P” mode (or “S” mode if I knew my subject was moving and I wanted to control for movement). I also used the touch screen almost exclusively, as it was easier, faster, and often safer to hold the camera up and quickly frame and take a shot rather than put the EVF to my eye and possibly run into a small child covered in ice cream.

Days are long and hot at Orlando theme parks
ISO 125 | 1/1250 sec | F5.6 | 24mm

A feature I did wish for on the ZS200 was an articulated LCD screen. One of the advantages of using the LCD screen is to frame shots from a vantage point I wouldn’t have with the EVF — holding the camera high over my head, low to the ground, or off the edge of a boat, for example. But without an articulated screen, I couldn’t see what I was framing and I had to guess and hope for the best.

In use, I was pretty happy with the Panasonic ZS200. Sure, the low-light performance wasn't as good as I'd expect on a larger sensor camera, focus got a bit soft at the long end, and the JPEG conversion could be a little crunchy, but I was on vacation. This was a time for me to enjoy an experience with my family while getting a few photos to document the memories. For that purpose, it served me well – I carried it with me the entire trip and was always ready to capture a moment when it arose.